Is Ingesting Essential Oils Safe?


Essential oils have a somewhat controversial reputation, partially due to companies and influencer's that recommend the ingestion of essential oils compounds, however we’re here to separate the fact from fiction and help you understand the scientific truth!

Essential oils are completely natural compounds, derived from plant material, such as leaves, stems, flowers, bark and roots and the volatile components are extracted by steam distillation or mechanical expression.

As highly concentrated and complex botanical extracts, these substances are primarily comprised of varying amounts of terpenes, esters, aldehydes, ketones, alcohols, phenols and oxides. These secondary metabolites are unpredictable in nature.

Essential oils impart a particular fragrance, making them a "clean" alternative to synthetic fragrances for adding natural scents to cosmetic products. Fragrance aside, there are at least 90 different essential oils that can be identified as being recommended for dermatological use.

Essential oils are mostly used for the treatment of infections, inflammatory skin conditions and general skin maintenance for healthy ageing including pigmentation, firming and tightening, fine lines and wrinkles. Essential oils also possess therapeutic characteristics, with proven olfactory benefits for calming, boosting sleep and reducing anxiety.

While many people find themselves concerned about the safety of these compounds, essential oils are generally recognised safe at specific concentration limits and are formulated in natural skincare products for the face at approximately 0.2% concentration.

Essential oils are known skin sensitisers when used at a high concentrations, linking them to cases of allergic contact dermatitis. The components of essential oils prone to causing sensitivity or allergies include limonene, linalool, citral and cinnamyl alcohol. This is most commonly seen with citrus oils, such as bergamot, lemon, lime, grapefruit and orange, which contain foucoramins, in addition to limonene, linalool, and citral.

Essential oils are used therapeutically by aromatherapists for a range of health conditions. They are NOT recommended for internal use, including oral, vaginal or gastrointestinal, unless under the advice and supervision of a certified trained aromatherapist.  

The chemical composition of essential oils often includes toxic constituents that can vary from oil to oil. In addition to adverse reactions like allergies, and unwanted effects on nursing/pregnancy, young children and the elderly, some essential oils contain toxins that can cause seizures, respiratory failure, and kidney failure regardless of age or circumstance.

For example:

Roman Chamomile Oil (Arthemis nobilis) includes tiglic acid, which can cause gastrointestinal upset, allergic reactions, bronchospasm, and can stimulate the uterus.
Cinnamon Oil (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) includes cinnamic aldehyde which can lead to hypersensitivity, dermatitis, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dizziness, and oral lesions.
Clove Oil (Syzygium aromaticum) includes THREE toxic components: eugenol, caryophillin, and vanillin. These can cause oral and skin irritation, allergic reactions, nausea, vomiting, respiratory symptoms, and notably, seizures.
Eucalyptus Oil (Eucalyptus globulus) includes 1,8 cineole (eucalyptol) and hydrocyanic acid, responsible for vomiting, abdominal pain, respiratory depression, dizziness, headaches, ataxia, obtundation, coma, and again, seizures.
Pennyroyal Oil (Mentha pulegium) contains pulegone, responsible for nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and even kidney failure.
Peppermint Oil (Mentha species) includes menthol and menthone, reported to cause breathing to stop in young children. These constituents can also lead to hypersensitivity, ataxia (a lack of voluntary muscle coordination), and myalgia (muscle pain).
Pine Oil (Pinus species) is comprised of monoterpene, aromatic pine oil, and other hydrocarbons responsible for respiratory failure.
Tea Tree Oil (Melaleuca alternifolia) includes Terpinen-4-ol (as does Juniper Oil) which can cause ataxia, stupor, and sores.